On this day…28 October

On 28 October 1929 Joyce discussed an idea for setting Pomes Penyeach to music.

The idea came from Herbert Hughes, Arthur Bliss and Léon Goossens, who discussed the idea with Joyce after a concert at the Palais Royal on 28 October. The initial idea was to set a few poems but was later extended to all thirteen poems.

They were attending a concert organised by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge with a programme of contemporary chamber music, including pieces by Arthur Bliss and Albert Roussel. The initial idea they came up was for setting four or five poems to music, and discussion of this idea continued after the concert at Fouquet’s restaurant. By the time they were finished, they had decided to set all of Pomes Penyeach and publish the settings as a book.

The task of editing the book fell to Belfast-born Herbert Hughes who had studied at the Royal College of Music in London and worked as a music critic for the Daily Telegraph. One of the founders of the Irish Folk Song Society in London, he collected thousands of folk songs in Ireland and edited collections of folk songs, including Irish Country Songs (1909) and Historical Songs and Ballads of Ireland (1922).

The project continued slowly over the following years until the first performance was given at a concert in the London Contemporary Music Centre on 16 March 1932. The book, called The Joyce Book, was published by The Sylvan Press and Humphrey Milford in association with Oxford University Press, on 2 February 1933, Joyce’s fifty-first birthday. It was a limited edition of 500 copies, designed by Hubert Foss, with a frontispiece portrait of Joyce by Augustus John. In addition to the settings of the poems the book included a prologue by James Stephens, an essay by Padraic Colum, and an epilogue by Arthur Symons.

The settings of the poems were as follows: ‘Tilly’ by EJ Moeran – ‘Watching the Needleboats at San Sabba’ by Arnold Bax – ‘A Flower given to my Daughter’ by Albert Roussel – ‘She weeps over Rahoon’ by Herbert Hughes – ‘Tutto è Sciolto’ by John Ireland – ‘On the Beach at Fontana’ by Roger Sessions – ‘Simples’ by Arthur Bliss – ‘Flood’ by Herbert Howells – ‘Nightpiece’ by George Antheil – ‘Alone’ by Edgardo Carducci – ‘A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight’ by Eugene Goossens – ‘Bahnhofstrasse’ by CW Orr – ‘A Prayer’ by Bernard Van Dieren.

To celebrate the publication, Joyce wrote another poem, ‘Pennipomes Twoguineaseach.’ None of the composers had been paid for their contributions and the net proceeds were to go to Joyce. But sales of the book were poor and Joyce didn’t get the money he anticipated from it.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.